It has been tough to be associated with the Black Stars in recent times following all the brouhaha that emanated from the Brazil 2014 fiasco. Since that time, the invectives and the abuses directed at the team has hit the roof. I was at the Estadio de Bata in Equatorial Guinea during the final of the 2015 African Cup of Nations and it was amazing the kind of stuff I was monitoring on social media.
That some fans wanted to see the team lose, never mind it being 33 years since the country had last won the coveted continental trophy – literally demonstrating how low the support of the team was at the time. I have been to games before and after that occasion and it has not been any better to be honest. The Garden City was once a no-go area for opposing teams. Results were a virtual formality before games started. One only had to be there though when the Stars played Uganda after the Mundial. It was that bad.
Enter the local lad James Akwasi Appiah and his new technical team and all the talk ahead of the game against the Ethiopians on Sunday has been about the need for the locals and the country at large to get behind the team. It is difficult at this point to tell whether the fans are going to turn over a new leaf and throng to the stadium in their numbers. Skipper Asamoah Gyan and his deputy Andre Ayew have been talking up the importance of fans at the stadium in the buildup to the game and how they could get them over the line with their support. Their comments have been backed by assistant coach Ibrahim Tanko, himself a local boy – having lived a huge part of his life in the Garden City playing for Alhaji Gruzah’s King Faisal before ending up at Borussia Dortmund. Even the revered former skipper Stephen Appiah has had to wade into the discussion and personally send a plea to the once beloved fans who thronged the stadium to get this generation of players over the line.
They would, however, be the first to admit that the mere fact that the game is being played in Kumasi would naturally not get in the numbers. Sorry guys. It simply does not work that way. The comments of some players and the leadership of the Football Association in the past has not helped matters. I am not in any way saying that Kumasi holds the birthright to Black Stars Games but the locals would not gloss over how slighted they felt when their support of the Ugandan team was misconstrued with subsequent games shifted to Tamale. I am not too sure why the choice of Baba Nyara this time round, but the FA should simply not think that calls by these leading figures and the return of Mr Appiah would naturally draw the numbers to the stadium. Beyond the talk in the electronic media and a few write-ups, it’s been business as usual with the way games are staged in the country. Whereas our brothers in the developed settings see these games as an event and would want to maximise all the benefits thereof, I am yet to see any major campaign by the FA and the playing body to win over the hearts and minds of the nation. It is simply not just about 40,000 people filling the stadium. It is a lot more than that. How I wish the FA and its Marketing and Communications Bureau would be doing a lot more to maximise the fortunes interlinked with the national team.
Kumasi is a hot bed of soccer but when their darling club Kotoko have been far from impressive, they are not simply going to fall over and take solace in the national team. They have seen these guys over and over and over again and in truth our lads barely get us rolling over compared to the past when they played for some of the biggest clubs in the world. Take out Kwadwo Asamoah, a local boy who plays for Juventus and it’s a bunch of ordinary players playing for ordinary clubs. To make it worse, a huge number of the recent call ups are barely known to the nation and are not prima donnas either. You only have to look at the squad. I have seen Kotoko struggle to get in the numbers on match days and no one should be fooled that a mere 40,000 would be jumping all over to make their way to the Baba Nyara.
I honestly pray that things would be a lot different this time around with the Kumasinians standing up for the team this time around. Manager Appiah needs a good start for his first official game and he would be well aware that he would need the support of all and sundry including the fans to make this happen.
Stand up Kumasi for the Stars.
Thanks for reading this piece.
The writer is Kwame Dwomoh-Agyemang, twitter @DwomohKwame and on Facebook at Kwame Dwomoh.